Martial: a social guide
Marcus Valerius Martialis, or Martial, as he is commonly called, wrote epigram: short, witty, sometimes obscene, and oftentimes satirical poems, in the late first century C.E. Dr Spisakís book is unique in its approach to the sometimes volatile content of the poems. He examines the literary and social background of Martialís poetry in order to show the vital and privileged role he played in his community as a social guide or conscience.
In the past both the significance and purpose of Martialís poetry have often been misinterpreted or missed altogether because of the particular literary and social background and context that inform his poetry. For example, literary histories have given the impression that Martial wrote Ďunobjectionably trivialí poems only to cull favor from patrons; they also suggest that he had little to say that was serious.
In contrast this book places Martial within the reactionary tradition of Indo-European blame/praise poetry. Poets in this tradition had special license because they served a vital function for their community: in reaction to the perceived deterioration of the behavior and conditions of their day they either praised ideal behavior, or, more commonly, they ridiculed socially aberrant and destructive behavior, oftentimes with highly caustic and obscene language and content. The effect was to deter and even shock offenders, past and potential, from socially destructive behavior. By linking Martial with this particular tradition one is better able to account for, understand, and appreciate his themes, methods, and the effect of his poetry.
Spisak began his work on the poet Martial more than fifteen years ago as the topic of his dissertation. Although his dissertation only examined the literary-critical terms in Martialís poetry, his subsequent work on Martial took him much farther. It eventually led him to an examination of the social systems of the ancient Romans in the early empire (1st century C.E.), such as amicitia, friendship, which was the basis of ancient Roman social, economical, and political systems. Hence, the book is much more than a literary study of Martialís poetry. Rather, Martialís poetry gives the reader an inside look at the workings of ancient Roman society and politics of the early empire. Martialís poetry is primarily a course in human behavior of the ancient Roman.
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Review: Martial: A Social GuideUser Review - rr - Goodreads
An easy-going on-ramp to Martial. I'm more convinced by the first two chapters (on invective and on friendship) than I am by the last two (on praise poems and "the good life"), but I'm glad I chose ... Read full review